The controversy began earlier this month, when residents of a north London borough noticed that a piece of art by mysterious graffiti artist Banksy had disappeared.
It looked like the part of the wall with the stenciled work depicting a boy sewing Union Jacks had been sliced, the work removed and the wall repaired with fresh plaster.
As The New York Times reports, the piece of wall turned up at a Miami auction house, where it is scheduled to fetch anywhere from $500,000 to $700,000 on Saturday. The Times adds:
“How ‘Slave Labor’ made its way to Miami is a mystery. Poundland, the shop where it originally appeared, has said that it was not involved with the work’s removal. And the auction house is not saying who is selling it, or how it was obtained.”
Residents were furious.
The Haringey Borough Council issued an open letter to Frederic Thut, the owner of the auction house.
“When the people of Haringey realized the mural had been taken from them this week, they were angry and disgusted that someone could try to make money from a piece of community art,” the letter read according to the Haringey Independent. “For you to allow it to be sold for huge profit in this way would be morally wrong, and completely contrary to the spirit in which we believe it was given to our community.”
Banksy, if you are not familiar, is a shadowy figure in the art world. He doesn’t give interviews and has gone from a being “guerrilla street artist” to a celebrated one worth millions. There is tension in those two things: On the one hand, he’s a rebel, a critic of both the traditional art world and the government, but on the other hand, his street art is fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars and threatening to erode his street cred.
Perhaps it’s that tension that has led to what The Guardian reports are “abusive” phone calls to the auction house. The Guardian adds:
Mr Thut, a 35-year veteran of art auctions who has handled tens of millions of dollars worth of work from artists including Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Renoir and Warhol, says the anger of those protesting the sale is misplaced.
“‘It’s been said that the artwork was stolen, and that is just not true,’ he told the Guardian.
“‘We take a lot of care with our consignors, who they are, what they do, and if there’s any illegality we will not touch it. Everything is checked out 150%.’”
Today, there is word of another twist in the story. The Haringey Independent reports that overnight a new stenciled art work has popped up near the spot of the old one.
It’s of a rat holding up a sign that says “Why?”
It has the hallmarks of Banksy, and some are wondering whether its a consolation prize for the north London borough.
What do you think? Is the rat enough compensation?
h/t NPR’s Maeve McGoran